As the COVID-19 crisis continues, people living in long-term care and assisted living facilities are getting hit the hardest. At last count, upwards of 80 percent of Minnesota deaths from the virus have taken place in such centers—higher than the percentage in all other states. This is completely unacceptable.
Even before the pandemic, Minnesota's long-term care facilities faced a systemic problem of neglect and abuse. A new oversight law was meant to help address that crisis, but the Minnesota Department of Health now wants to delay implementation of its requirements.
Meanwhile, as the coronavirus outbreak spread and raised concerns about the scarcity of resources, some in our society began to advocate the rationing of care (such as ventilators) based on age, disability, or underlying health condition. Others have proposed mandatory “do not resuscitate” orders for COVID-19 patients.
Minnesotans should know about the laws and measures that might afford them protection in the event of life-threatening actions during this pandemic (MCCL has worked over the years to help secure such protections). Here are some points to keep in mind:
Although triage practices can be necessary as a last resort (when medical resources are scarce), discriminatory denial of care on the basis of age, ability, dependency, perceived "quality of life," etc., is a violation of civil rights. Every human being matters equally. Every life is equally worthwhile and worth protecting.
DNR and DNI orders are not mandatory and cannot be required by health care providers.
If a Minnesota health care provider refuses to provide wanted life-sustaining treatment (that it is capable of providing), the provider is still legally required to provide such care to the patient until transfer to another hospital can be arranged.
Minnesotans may want to review and update their advance directives (often called "living wills") to ensure adequate protection. Remember that the coronavirus is, in the vast majority of cases, not lethal. Most patients fully recover.
The COVID-19 pandemic is testing our society's commitment to the fundamental idea that every single member of the human family bears equal worth and equal rights—that every single member of the human family is essential. Your life should be valued and protected!